It Takes A Village: Simple Ways to Make Sure Your Child Learns to Read

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Scrabble 2

By Dr. Tyra Seldon

     One day, veteran public school teacher Mrs.Valerie Ligon was visiting her parents. As she sat with her dad and reminisced about her childhood, the subject of board games came up. Her father reminded her that they used Scrabble to teach her and her siblings how to read, spell and use a dictionary correctly. He then suggested that she introduce the game to her students. At first Ligon shrugged it off, but then she had an idea: Who says that learning should not be fun?

She decided to bring a couple of Scrabble board games into her first grade classroom. She demystified the rules and made them concise and age appropriate. Students could use prior knowledge, vocabulary words and each other as lifelines. Since spelling did count, she graciously reminded them that “whut” is not a word and neither is “asxed.”

After a couple of weeks of integrating the game into her lessons, her students’ working vocabulary improved and soon their newly acquired and correctly spelled words started seeping into their written texts. The six and seven year olds were invigorated by this new discovery. Parents even volunteered to help coordinate Scrabble tournaments.

Mrs. Ligon decided to take it one step further. Why restrict learning to the four walls of a classroom? Using a rotating schedule, she allowed her students to take the board games home over the weekend. They became literacy ambassadors. They started playing with their parents, siblings and neighborhood friends. By the end of the school year, a simple idea had morphed into a love of language.

Whether it is Scrabble, Boggle, Taboo, Charades, Hang Man or even Words with Friends, the benefits of literacy-themed games are numerous. Over the summer and throughout the school year, Mrs. Ligon suggests that parents can have family game nights: “Parents, other relatives and community members can become active participants in a child’s learning process. With texting, tweeting, e-readers and smart phones, sometimes we forget how to talk to one another. Board games can be used to teach social skills, the art of negotiation and the beauty of language all while bonding.”

Just as Ligon used board games with her younger students, parents can come up with other creative ways to engage their older children at home. Start by creating your own version of a required reading list. Chances are that many of your favorite childhood books are probably still in print. If you were not an avid reader as a child, dial a friend. With just two books from five different friends, you can create a list of ten books within minutes.

As we know, most young people are very opinionated. One way they can channel their inner blogger is by writing. Writing does not have to be cumbersome or boring. The National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association have created parent resources at Alternatively, parents can generate a list of their own daily writing prompts. Just 15 to 20 minutes of writing can lead to a lifetime of discovery.

Like most skills, the key to improving literacy is time on task. In a day and age where everyone has an excuse or theory as to why certain demographics of students have difficulty reading and writing, it’s time that we start focusing on inexpensive and accessible solutions. A dictionary, book, pen, notebook and even a board game are small investments in a young person’s future.

Dr. Tyra Seldon is the Scholar-in-Residence for the Your Black World Network. It Takes a Village is a series of educational blogs that inspire, inform, emancipate and educate our readers. If you have an idea for a story, please contact us at:

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